“Too many of us are not eating together at home with family because we think it’s too hard” to prepare meals, says Gilbert mom Emily Dixon, a blogger and recipe contributor to Sprouts Farmers Market. Dixon says cooking healthy family meals doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. See more of her tips and recipes at OneLovelyLife.com.
Dixon shares this blueprint for planning quick and healthful family meals:
1. Plan and Shop: A game plan is mandatory. Spend 15 minutes sketching out at least five dinners. Consult cookbooks, websites, blogs and other parents for ideas. Build meals around in-season produce and sale items. When possible, bring your children to the grocery store and allow them to select a few items, such as fruit for a snack. Kids who have a say in what they eat will eat more and better.
2. Take shortcuts: There’s nothing wrong with mixing and matching convenience and freshness. Food manufacturers are making it easier than ever to assemble instead of cook with bags of fresh vegetables, jarred pasta sauce or microwavable brown rice. Stock the freezer with frozen vegetables and fruits. They are harvested at the height of freshness, and freezing preserves the nutrients.
3. Prep and teach: Set aside an hour on a Sunday afternoon or 15 minutes in the morning to boil and refrigerate pasta, grill chicken or chop for stir-fry. It will take the stress out of weeknight dinners. Or assign tasks to children old enough to navigate kitchen prep chores. Along with helping get dinner on the table, it teaches kids to cook, which is a valuable life skill.
4. Repeat recipes: Master a half dozen or so family-friendly meals and repeat them, from taco Tuesday to soup-and-sandwich Friday nights. Introduce new meals and foods only when you have time or need a change.
5. Reuse leftovers: Double meals and freeze half for nights when cooking is not an option. You can serve one meal two different ways: chili in a bowl one night, over baked potatoes another.
6. Let kids customize: To cater to different preferences and dietary requirements, serve food in separate dishes: spaghetti in one, turkey meatballs in another. Place taco ingredients on a platter and allow everyone to customize his or her own plate.
7. Invest in the right kitchen tools: Buy a good chef’s knife, cutting board and cast-iron skillet that can go from stovetop to oven. A slow cooker can also be a lifesaver for busy families. Be strategic and buy what you need and will use most.
8. Make it fun: Make dinner a no-stress zone. Enjoy the food and each other.
Karen Fernau is a longtime journalist and former food writer at The Arizona Republic.